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The GO Outdoors Guide to Ski Jackets

A ski jacket is your outer shell when you ski and it is essential to protect you from the elements, as well as keeping you comfortable as you exert yourself.

Ski jackets are different from typical waterproof jackets or insulated jackets, because they are cut differently and have a variety of features you would never use elsewhere. From the athletic cut that helps you glide down the piste, to the helmet compatible hood and lift pass pocket, a ski jacket is a purchase that needs to be right, whether you're a regular skier or a beginner.

Your ski jacket is arguably the most important item in your skiing pack besides your boots, because skiing is an activity where you need to be protected from both the cold and the heat, you need a jacket that is designed to cover all your needs.

Skiing is a sport undertaken in extremely low temperatures, pushing your body to the max in a mixture of conditions, so you need clothes that will protect you. Some jackets are called ‘ski jackets’, but on closer inspection offer little in the way of protection from the changing conditions.

The choice can be overwhelming, but the best place to start is the weatherproofing capabilities of your ski jacket.

Because you are physically active when skiing, many companies focus on using breathable fabrics as well as waterproofing capabilities. For breathability, seek out vents and mesh areas as well as breathable fabrics, so you can stay warm, yet cool on the slopes. Many ski jackets come with breathable membranes that allow sweat to exit, but lock out any moisture.

Ski jackets start with a technical, waterproof shell. This will ideally be windproof as well. They are then usually layered with a synthetic insulator to create internal heat, working alongside breathability.

Can I Wear a Down Jacket Skiing?

Ski Jackets are a tricky purchase because you have two main considerations. Firstly, you will be heading into the cold, for which you need warmth. This is why many people turn to a down jacket.

"With extreme fill powers of up to 700+, these will surely keep me warm!"

However, within minutes, your muscles will be warm and active from all your skiing - requiring you to have ventilation and breathability so you don't get sweaty and uncomfortable.

Because down jackets are made with natural goose down they have a natural advantage in the cold - they can warm you up very quickly and maintain this heat over many hours. However, down jackets have a disadvantage in the wet. The down itself will become clumpy, saturated, and is then unable to loft and produce heat. Because skiing is both a wet and cold pursuit, you are better suited to choosing a ski jacket that is made with synthetic Insulation opposed to down!

Synthetic Insulation - Ideal for the slopes

Man-made, synthetic insulation is the lab made equivalent of down.

This man-made material is an attempt to replicate the warming and heating effects of down, without the bulk, and with the chance to achieve higher levels of breathability. Because it is more breathable, synthetic insulation is perfect for use when skiing.

Typically, synthetic insulation is made with different proportions of insulation in different areas, for example, 100g in the body of the ski jacket, and 60g in the hood, so you get plenty of circulated heat without compromising on ventilation.

Overall you generally have more freedom of movement at a lower cost with a synthetic jacket, however it may lose heat quicker than a traditional down style jacket, so if you spend more time sitting and relaxing in the mountains on your ski holiday than hitting the slopes, you may prefer the heat of a natural down insulated ski jacket.

Another reason to choose a ski jacket made with synthetic insulation is that it performs better when wet compared to natural down, and is cheaper and easier to care for.

Columbia use Omni-Heat® insulation, Helly Hansen use Helly Core or Helly Tech, and some use no insulation at all. Although this may seem crazy, these jackets are much cheaper than insulated alternatives, and if you have followed the advice of the layering system and are wearing a base layer, you shouldn't feel the cold. The other benefit is that the less insulation there is on your ski jacket, the more packable it is.

Ski Jacket Outer Shell

A ski jacket’s outer shell (the face fabric) may vary, but typically they can be made of:

  • Pertex
  • Polartec
  • HyVent
  • Ared
  • Apex
  • HellyTech® Performance Fabric
  • Omni-Shield Ilus Softshell
  • Marmot M1 Softshell
  • ClimaPRO 3L
  • OmniTECH

All are designed to keep you warm, whilst the outer layers allow spray and wind chills to be stopped in their tracks.

What to Look For

DWR (Durable Water Repellent) - DWR is the manufacturers' own water repellent coating that is applied to the face fabric of your ski jacket to provide a layer of water repellency. It works in the same way as Teflon does on a non stick frying pan, allowing the water and snow to bead off. DWR can also be useful for skiing because it is a less costly choice than a waterproof membrane created ski jacket, such as GORE-TEX®, and any re-coating of the DWR may only need to be done once a year, during or before the ski season.

GORE-Tex/Waterproof Membrane Technology - A GORE-TEX® membrane coating is very waterproof and breathable, but may be too expensive to warrant a 'one ski holiday a year' purchase.

Sealed Seams - Sealed seams indicate that your ski jacket has been designed with a weatherproof construction, featuring seams that are tightly bonded to provide a barrier against moisture.

Articulated Sleeves - Articulated sleeves make sure you can move freely in your jacket.

Venting – Venting will allow you to stay comfortable when exerting yourself, and extra features such as pit zips and deep chest zips allow you to easily release built up moisture when needed.

A Snow Skirt - This acts as a barrier against the snow, covering the lower area of the jacket and preventing unwanted snow from entering.

Hood - Ensure that your hood is 'Helmet Compatible' so it can be worn in conjunction with your ski helmet. A toggle closure system will ensure you can easily secure your hood in place.

Adjustable Hem/Cuffs – An adjustable hem and cuffs will allow you to seal out the weather, providing better insulation and weatherproofing.

Zipped Pockets – Plenty of zipped pockets will allow you to safely stow away any essentials.

Deep Zips - Deep chest zips allow you to release heat on the move.

Flexible Sleeves - These can be rolled up for venting.

Removable Insulation- Removable insulation, such as zip out fleece liners, are ideal if you intend to vary your climates or activities throughout the life of the jacket, or if you want the freedom to remove layers, dependent on the weather.